In 1906, Harry Gerstner founded H. Gerstner & Sons, an American tool chest manufacturer located in Dayton, OH. Today, the company is run by his great-grandson, John Scott Campbell. His great-granddaughter, Kim Campbell Brown, is Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
In this discussion, Kim shares the history of H. Gerstner & Sons and the secret to their success—their truly dedicated workforce.
Jason Blount: Can you share some background on the company?
Kim Brown: The company was founded by my great grandfather, Harry Gerstner, in 1906. Prior to this, he apprenticed as a pattern maker. During his apprenticeship, he made his own wooden tool chest since there was nothing on the market he felt was of high enough quality. This chest was notable among his coworkers. He made six cents an hour during his apprenticeship and at the end, he received a $100 bonus. With that bonus money, he founded the company to start making more tool chests. He started with door-to-door sales and eventually he drove all over the country to market the chests. Gerstner has even had government contracts, and those items were used in both world wars.
Jason: How is the company doing today?
Kim: We have about 15 employees today and they all specialize in different areas. There are a few of them that concentrate on fine-tuned operations, some work on strictly production areas and others work on restorations of older chests that have already seen years of use. We listen to our customers and hire people in order to meet current demands for the changing marketplace. I believe the biggest successful key within any company is their employees desire to work and the willingness to show up and learn new things.
Jason: How many different boxes do you sell?
Kim: We sell a lot of variations. Each product style has different SKU’s according to wood type and other specifications – so we offer close to 80 different SKU’s at any given time. We probably offer about 20 different standard styles. Quite a bit of our growth recently has been in original equipment manufacturing, or OEM as well as ODM (Original Design Manufacturing). We privately brand label for several customers that reach out to us, give us their design idea and then we supply their products. Additionally, we utilize our original designs with a unique twist and co-brand the items with several customers.
Jason: Did you grow up working at the factory?
Kim: Pretty much. I recently celebrated over 30 years with the company, so I know what it’s like to work in a factory position. Neither my brother nor I would ask our employees to do anything that we wouldn’t step in the line and do ourselves. If we’re crunched for time and understaffed during peak times, we’re both on the line helping.
Jason: How long has your brother been the president?
Kim: He officially took over as president in 2016 when my father passed away. He was in line for the presidency about six or seven years prior to this. He was very prepared when the time came to step into the role, and he’s excelled in this position.
Jason: How do you compare to foreign competitors?
Kim: If buyers are looking for cheaper prices, we’re not for them. As a USA family owned and operated firm, we’re much more efficient and our turn-around time is faster. We design our products in house, and we can get projects done in about 30 days, as opposed to companies overseas that take months. We realize people have a choice with what they buy, and our products are durable and authentic. We have people who send in older Gerstner chests to restore that are 40 – 60 years old and still fully functioning, but need a bit of cosmetic help and a general ‘tune-up’. Gerstner is the last manufacturer of wood tool chests still in the USA since its inception. The last of our domestic competitors all went out of business around the mid-1960’s.
To learn more: visit https://www.gerstnerusa.com/